Quitting While You're Behind

Imagine you are going to a regional bluegrass festival (That would the the Tennessee Valley Old-Time Fiddlers Convention in Athens, Alabama for me). You hear some young banjo player picking out an incredible set of licks and you think to yourself “Man! I’ll never be that good!”

To put it confusingly: most of us have some experience with this, which is more than any of us would like.

Actually, I don’t think that way much at all, but on those rare occasions I just tell myself that there are two ways to approach that feeling.

1 – You can go ahead and think you’ll never be that good and let it deflate you; you stop playing for a while until you can get a new, better attitude.

-OR-

2 – You can be inspired by what you have seen someone else do.

Remember that there is always going to be someone better than you at whatever the task at hand. At banjo playing, at folding the laundry… at just about everything! Perhaps it’s just a tinge of old-fashioned jealousy, but the sooner you can get over it, the better for your continued advancement. Like anger, such feeling can eat you up inside if you let them.

Also realize that you may be feeling this way because you yourself are getting better. So much so, that you now recognise exactly what the other guy is doing; you know enough about it to realize that this is something terrific going on, and you would also like to be playing it. Give yourself credit here for what you bring to the moment as an active listener. Realize that you are a lot closer to being able to play the same licks than you think.

If you are thinking of putting off practice – for a day, for a year – I hope this helps you see things as not so bad. Keep persevering and don’t give up!

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About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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2 Responses to Quitting While You're Behind

  1. Banjo Paul says:

    Hey Phill,

    Great article! I’ve encountered that same feeling on a regular basis: “wow, look at him/her; I’ll never be as good as them!” It doesn’t help that I’ve rubbed shoulders at times with some truly great pickers who were definitely a hard act to follow, and that very honestly I probably never will be quite as good at. But I’ll try like mad to come awful dang close!

    I’m a decent, semi-professional banjo player and I do many things well. (I’m no Sammy Shelor or Jimmy Mills by any means.) Yet, there are times, when I see a banjo player doing it and doing it well, that I get a little down about myself. I’ve tried to use those times to be inspired and to “get better”. Sometimes, I’ve been able to come to the realization that what that banjo picker is doing is just DIFFERENT than what I do. Different style, different approach, different flavor. It helps me to remember that I have certain strengths and abilities, and that I too can do some things well.

    Loved your thoughts and advice. Whenever I get awed by a picker, I’ve definitely become inspired to seek out ways to improve my own technique, and so should others. Never give up; there isn’t an end zone to shoot for. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been picking 6 months or 27 years; the feeling of “I’ll never get this” never leaves you. Let it propel you forward and entice you to “git ‘er done!”

    Thanks Phill, and as I always say: pick ’em if ya got ’em!

    Banjo Paul
    “Wunse, I coodn’t even spel bango pikker…now I are one!”
    http://www.banjosrule.com (main site)
    http://www.mybanjolife.com (blog)

  2. admin says:

    Hi Paul,
    Yes, I think you have another good reason here – whatever the other person is doing is simply different. I know sometimes I’ve taken the time and trouble to go ahead and learn whatever that fancy lick was that I heard, and often it turns out to be not as hard as I would have thought.
    Phill

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